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Optimal Draft

Can a computer simulation tell us the optimal way to draft?

Seven years ago, Doug Drinen wrote an article about how the "optimal draft" would look from each draft slot. Does it make sense to start your draft RB-RB-RB?  What about WR-RB vs. RB-QB? My goal was to build a model to derive the optimal draft based on Footballguys' projections and the most current average draft position (ADP) data. There are some limitations to my computer processing power, however, so I need to include a bunch of restrictions. Let's get those out of the way:

  • We will assume a 12-team league that has only an eight-round draft. Every team starts 1 QB, 3 RB, 3 WR, and 1 TE in the first 8 rounds (I chose that system because it almost perfectly mirrors ADP through 96 picks).
  • PPR scoring system
  • At every pick, you take the player available (based on ADP) projected to score the most points (based on David Dodds' projections)

Like all models, this one is imperfect. You may think that this one is more imperfect than most. That's okay, because I still think there is a lot of value in this, and we'll see why in a bit. Finding out the best way to draft in this fictional world can provide useful philosophies that you can take over to your draft.

There are 1,120 different ways to draft one quarterback, three running backs, three wide receivers, and one tight end. I went through each of those 1120 draft options for each draft slot and noted which 8 players were projected to score the most points.  For space reasons, I won't list all 1,120, but I'll list the top 20 for each draft slot.

Pick #1

Here's how to read the table.  The top combination in terms of projected fantasy points says to go running back at 1.01, then grab a RB and a WR at both the 2/3 and the 4/5 turn.  At 6/7, you take your first quarterback and your final receiver, and you leave tight end for last. This is pretty intuitive, but nice to see.  The formula then takes the best available player at each position for each slot, which is Peterson, White/Murray, Vereen/Brown, Kaepernick/Jennings, and finally Finley.  That combo is projected to score 1,913 fantasy points. Footballguys is high on Vereen, Brown, Kaepernick, and Jennings, and Peterson/White are studs, so the next combo simply has you grabbing Gronkowski early and stealing DeAngelo Williams late (another player Footballguys thinks is undervalued.) Here are the top 20:

Rk124254849727396OrderFP
1 Adrian Peterson Roddy White DeMarco Murray Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Greg Jennings Jermichael Finley RB-WR-RB-RB-WR-QB-WR-TE 1913
2 Adrian Peterson Roddy White Rob Gronkowski Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Greg Jennings DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-TE-RB-WR-QB-WR-RB 1912.2
3 Adrian Peterson Roddy White Andre Johnson Antonio Brown Shane Vereen Colin Kaepernick DeAngelo Williams Jermichael Finley RB-WR-WR-WR-RB-QB-RB-TE 1909.2
4 Adrian Peterson DeMarco Murray Rob Gronkowski Antonio Brown Shane Vereen Colin Kaepernick Greg Jennings Vincent Brown RB-RB-TE-WR-RB-QB-WR-WR 1908.8
5 Adrian Peterson Roddy White DeMarco Murray Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Jermichael Finley Vincent Brown RB-WR-RB-RB-WR-QB-TE-WR 1906.8
6 Adrian Peterson Roddy White Rob Gronkowski Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick DeAngelo Williams Vincent Brown RB-WR-TE-RB-WR-QB-RB-WR 1906
7 Calvin Johnson DeMarco Murray Rob Gronkowski Antonio Brown Shane Vereen Colin Kaepernick Greg Jennings DeAngelo Williams WR-RB-TE-WR-RB-QB-WR-RB 1904.5
8 Calvin Johnson DeMarco Murray Roddy White Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick DeAngelo Williams Jermichael Finley WR-RB-WR-RB-WR-QB-RB-TE 1902.5
9 Adrian Peterson DeMarco Murray Rob Gronkowski Antonio Brown Torrey Smith Colin Kaepernick Greg Jennings DeAngelo Williams RB-RB-TE-WR-WR-QB-WR-RB 1899
10 Adrian Peterson Roddy White DeMarco Murray Antonio Brown Tony Gonzalez Colin Kaepernick Greg Jennings DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-RB-WR-TE-QB-WR-RB 1898.8
11 Calvin Johnson DeMarco Murray Rob Gronkowski Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick DeAngelo Williams Vincent Brown WR-RB-TE-RB-WR-QB-RB-WR 1898.3
12 Calvin Johnson DeMarco Murray Darren McFadden Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Greg Jennings Jermichael Finley WR-RB-RB-RB-WR-QB-WR-TE 1898.2
13 Adrian Peterson Roddy White DeMarco Murray Antonio Brown Torrey Smith Colin Kaepernick DeAngelo Williams Jermichael Finley RB-WR-RB-WR-WR-QB-RB-TE 1897
14 Adrian Peterson DeMarco Murray Rob Gronkowski Matthew Stafford Antonio Brown Greg Jennings Mike Williams DeAngelo Williams RB-RB-TE-QB-WR-WR-WR-RB 1895.9
15 Adrian Peterson Roddy White DeMarco Murray Matthew Stafford Antonio Brown DeAngelo Williams Greg Jennings Jermichael Finley RB-WR-RB-QB-WR-RB-WR-TE 1895
16 Adrian Peterson Aaron Rodgers DeMarco Murray Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Greg Jennings Mike Williams Jermichael Finley RB-QB-RB-RB-WR-WR-WR-TE 1893.6
17 Adrian Peterson Aaron Rodgers Rob Gronkowski Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Greg Jennings Mike Williams DeAngelo Williams RB-QB-TE-RB-WR-WR-WR-RB 1892.8
18 Adrian Peterson DeMarco Murray Rob Gronkowski Antonio Brown Torrey Smith Colin Kaepernick DeAngelo Williams Vincent Brown RB-RB-TE-WR-WR-QB-RB-WR 1892.8
19 Adrian Peterson DeMarco Murray Darren McFadden Antonio Brown Torrey Smith Colin Kaepernick Greg Jennings Jermichael Finley RB-RB-RB-WR-WR-QB-WR-TE 1892.7
20 Adrian Peterson Roddy White DeMarco Murray Tony Gonzalez Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick DeAngelo Williams Vincent Brown RB-WR-RB-TE-WR-QB-RB-WR 1892.6

(Note that because the #1 and #12 teams pick at the turn, for each slot, there are 8 different identical ways of drafting. I have deleted all repeating options for all draft slots, which should make it more useful for you to view but might make some of the positional orderings misleading.)

A couple of interesting observations. Peterson doesn't dominate the #1 slot, in part because we're high on Vereen and Williams late. Of course, it's far from an optimal strategy, and not one we would recommend, but I would have expected things to look at lot worse if you took Calvin Johnson number one.

Something else that sticks out: we love Kaepernick at 72 (his ADP is 73). The top 13 combos have Kaepernick in the sixth, something to keep in mind (and perhaps cross your fingers about) if you have the #1 pick.

Pick #2

Rk2232647507174951-2-3-4-5-6-7-8FP
1 Jamaal Charles Roddy White DeMarco Murray Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Greg Jennings Jermichael Finley RB-WR-RB-RB-WR-QB-WR-TE 1911.3
2 Jamaal Charles Roddy White Rob Gronkowski Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Greg Jennings DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-TE-RB-WR-QB-WR-RB 1910.5
3 Jamaal Charles Roddy White Andre Johnson Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Jermichael Finley DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-WR-RB-WR-QB-TE-RB 1907.5
4 Jamaal Charles DeMarco Murray Rob Gronkowski Antonio Brown Shane Vereen Colin Kaepernick Greg Jennings Vincent Brown RB-RB-TE-WR-RB-QB-WR-WR 1907.1
5 Jamaal Charles Roddy White DeMarco Murray Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Jermichael Finley Vincent Brown RB-WR-RB-RB-WR-QB-TE-WR 1905.1
6 Calvin Johnson DeMarco Murray Rob Gronkowski Antonio Brown Shane Vereen Colin Kaepernick Greg Jennings DeAngelo Williams WR-RB-TE-WR-RB-QB-WR-RB 1904.5
7 Jamaal Charles Roddy White Rob Gronkowski Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick DeAngelo Williams Vincent Brown RB-WR-TE-RB-WR-QB-RB-WR 1904.3
8 Jamaal Charles Roddy White DeMarco Murray Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Greg Jennings Tony Romo Jermichael Finley RB-WR-RB-RB-WR-WR-QB-TE 1903.2
9 Calvin Johnson DeMarco Murray Roddy White Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick DeAngelo Williams Jermichael Finley WR-RB-WR-RB-WR-QB-RB-TE 1902.5
10 Jamaal Charles Roddy White Rob Gronkowski Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Greg Jennings Tony Romo DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-TE-RB-WR-WR-QB-RB 1902.4
11 Jamaal Charles Roddy White Andre Johnson Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Jermichael Finley Tony Romo DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-WR-RB-WR-TE-QB-RB 1899.4
12 Jamaal Charles DeMarco Murray Rob Gronkowski Antonio Brown Shane Vereen Greg Jennings Tony Romo Vincent Brown RB-RB-TE-WR-RB-WR-QB-WR 1899
13 Calvin Johnson DeMarco Murray Rob Gronkowski Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick DeAngelo Williams Vincent Brown WR-RB-TE-RB-WR-QB-RB-WR 1898.3
14 Calvin Johnson DeMarco Murray Darren McFadden Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Greg Jennings Jermichael Finley WR-RB-RB-RB-WR-QB-WR-TE 1898.2
15 Jamaal Charles DeMarco Murray Rob Gronkowski Antonio Brown Torrey Smith Colin Kaepernick Greg Jennings DeAngelo Williams RB-RB-TE-WR-WR-QB-WR-RB 1897.3
16 Jamaal Charles Roddy White DeMarco Murray Tony Gonzalez Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Greg Jennings DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-RB-TE-WR-QB-WR-RB 1897.1
17 Jamaal Charles Roddy White DeMarco Murray Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Jermichael Finley Tony Romo Vincent Brown RB-WR-RB-RB-WR-TE-QB-WR 1897
18 Calvin Johnson DeMarco Murray Rob Gronkowski Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Greg Jennings Tony Romo DeAngelo Williams WR-RB-TE-RB-WR-WR-QB-RB 1896.4
19 Jamaal Charles Roddy White Rob Gronkowski Shane Vereen Antonio Brown DeAngelo Williams Tony Romo Vincent Brown RB-WR-TE-RB-WR-RB-QB-WR 1896.2
20 Jamaal Charles Roddy White DeMarco Murray Antonio Brown Torrey Smith Colin Kaepernick DeAngelo Williams Jermichael Finley RB-WR-RB-WR-WR-QB-RB-TE 1895.3


As you would expect, there isn't much of a difference in strategy between picks one and two.  The optimal strategy is again "Best Available Running Back" followed by White/Murray, Vereen/Brown, Kaepernick/Jennings, and Finley.  The next best combo simply swaps Murray and Finley for Gronkowski and Williams.

We see Romo get drafted in some of these combinations, as he shows up in our first draft that starts off with running backs and wide receivers in the first six rounds.  If you are high on Finley and hate taking a quarterback early, this is a viable strategy, but it's not optimal. The main reason? That combo is identical to the number one combo, except you draft Jennings in the fifth instead of the sixth, and take Romo in the sixth instead of Kaepernick in the fifth. Obviously the calculus changes if you prefer Romo to Kaepernick, but this again highlights how we view the 49ers quarterback as a great value at the end of the sixth.

Pick #3

Rk3222746517075941-2-3-4-5-6-7-8FP
1 Jamaal Charles Larry Fitzgerald DeMarco Murray Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Greg Jennings Jermichael Finley RB-WR-RB-RB-WR-QB-WR-TE 1915.1
2 Jamaal Charles Larry Fitzgerald Rob Gronkowski Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Greg Jennings DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-TE-RB-WR-QB-WR-RB 1914.3
3 Jamaal Charles Larry Fitzgerald Andre Johnson Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Jermichael Finley DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-WR-RB-WR-QB-TE-RB 1911.3
4 Jamaal Charles DeMarco Murray Andre Johnson Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Greg Jennings Jermichael Finley RB-RB-WR-RB-WR-QB-WR-TE 1910.3
5 Jamaal Charles Larry Fitzgerald DeMarco Murray Cam Newton Antonio Brown DeAngelo Williams Greg Jennings Jermichael Finley RB-WR-RB-QB-WR-RB-WR-TE 1909.5
6 Jamaal Charles Rob Gronkowski Andre Johnson Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Greg Jennings DeAngelo Williams RB-TE-WR-RB-WR-QB-WR-RB 1909.5
7 Jamaal Charles Larry Fitzgerald DeMarco Murray Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Jermichael Finley Vincent Brown RB-WR-RB-RB-WR-QB-TE-WR 1908.9
8 Jamaal Charles Larry Fitzgerald Rob Gronkowski Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick DeAngelo Williams Vincent Brown RB-WR-TE-RB-WR-QB-RB-WR 1908.1
9 Jamaal Charles DeMarco Murray Rob Gronkowski Antonio Brown Shane Vereen Colin Kaepernick Greg Jennings Vincent Brown RB-RB-TE-WR-RB-QB-WR-WR 1907.1
10 Jamaal Charles DeMarco Murray Rob Gronkowski Cam Newton Antonio Brown Greg Jennings Mike Williams DeAngelo Williams RB-RB-TE-QB-WR-WR-WR-RB 1906.6
11 Calvin Johnson Larry Fitzgerald DeMarco Murray Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick DeAngelo Williams Jermichael Finley WR-WR-RB-RB-WR-QB-RB-TE 1906.3
12 Jamaal Charles Larry Fitzgerald DeMarco Murray Cam Newton Shane Vereen Greg Jennings Mike Williams Jermichael Finley RB-WR-RB-QB-RB-WR-WR-TE 1905.4
13 Jamaal Charles DeMarco Murray Andre Johnson Cam Newton Antonio Brown Greg Jennings DeAngelo Williams Jermichael Finley RB-RB-WR-QB-WR-WR-RB-TE 1904.7
14 Jamaal Charles Larry Fitzgerald Rob Gronkowski Cam Newton Shane Vereen Greg Jennings Mike Williams DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-TE-QB-RB-WR-WR-RB 1904.6
15 Calvin Johnson DeMarco Murray Rob Gronkowski Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Greg Jennings DeAngelo Williams WR-RB-TE-RB-WR-QB-WR-RB 1904.5
16 Jamaal Charles DeMarco Murray Andre Johnson Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Jermichael Finley Vincent Brown RB-RB-WR-RB-WR-QB-TE-WR 1904.1
17 Jamaal Charles Larry Fitzgerald DeMarco Murray Cam Newton Antonio Brown DeAngelo Williams Jermichael Finley Vincent Brown RB-WR-RB-QB-WR-RB-TE-WR 1903.3
18 Jamaal Charles Rob Gronkowski Andre Johnson Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick DeAngelo Williams Vincent Brown RB-TE-WR-RB-WR-QB-RB-WR 1903.3
19 Jamaal Charles Larry Fitzgerald Andre Johnson Cam Newton Shane Vereen Greg Jennings DeAngelo Williams Jermichael Finley RB-WR-WR-QB-RB-WR-RB-TE 1902.7
20 Jamaal Charles DeMarco Murray Rob Gronkowski Cam Newton Antonio Brown Greg Jennings DeAngelo Williams Vincent Brown RB-RB-TE-QB-WR-WR-RB-WR 1901.5

We start seeing Larry Fitzgerald show up, as the latest you can get him according to our rules is #22. You've now noticed the trend at the top of the draft: top remaining RB, top remaining WR, then Murray, Vereen, Brown, Kaepernick, Jennings, and Finley.  If you are a bit riskier, take Gronkowski in the third and Williams in the eighth.

Cam Newton sneaks into some of the top picks, as he's not available at the end of round four to the top two picks (Newton has an ADP of QB46 in PPR leagues). We're pretty high on Vereen and Kaepernick, so there's no way to make up the value at running back if you draft Newton in the 4th, but the Carolina quarterback does appear in the fifth-best strategy.

Pick #4

Rk4212845526976931-2-3-4-5-6-7-8FP
1 Calvin Johnson Reggie Bush DeMarco Murray Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Greg Jennings Jermichael Finley WR-RB-RB-RB-WR-QB-WR-TE 1919.6
2 Calvin Johnson Reggie Bush Rob Gronkowski Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Greg Jennings DeAngelo Williams WR-RB-TE-RB-WR-QB-WR-RB 1918.8
3 Calvin Johnson Reggie Bush DeMarco Murray Cam Newton Antonio Brown Greg Jennings DeAngelo Williams Jermichael Finley WR-RB-RB-QB-WR-WR-RB-TE 1914
4 Calvin Johnson Reggie Bush DeMarco Murray Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Jermichael Finley Vincent Brown WR-RB-RB-RB-WR-QB-TE-WR 1913.4
5 Calvin Johnson Reggie Bush Rob Gronkowski Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick DeAngelo Williams Vincent Brown WR-RB-TE-RB-WR-QB-RB-WR 1912.6
6 Calvin Johnson Reggie Bush Vincent Jackson Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick DeAngelo Williams Jermichael Finley WR-RB-WR-RB-WR-QB-RB-TE 1910.7
7 Calvin Johnson Reggie Bush DeMarco Murray Cam Newton Shane Vereen Greg Jennings Mike Williams Jermichael Finley WR-RB-RB-QB-RB-WR-WR-TE 1909.9
8 Arian Foster Reggie Bush DeMarco Murray Cam Newton Antonio Brown Greg Jennings Mike Williams Jermichael Finley RB-RB-RB-QB-WR-WR-WR-TE 1909.6
9 Arian Foster Reggie Bush Rob Gronkowski Antonio Brown Shane Vereen Colin Kaepernick Greg Jennings Vincent Brown RB-RB-TE-WR-RB-QB-WR-WR 1909.3
10 Calvin Johnson Reggie Bush Rob Gronkowski Cam Newton Shane Vereen Greg Jennings Mike Williams DeAngelo Williams WR-RB-TE-QB-RB-WR-WR-RB 1909.1
11 Arian Foster Reggie Bush Rob Gronkowski Cam Newton Antonio Brown Greg Jennings Mike Williams DeAngelo Williams RB-RB-TE-QB-WR-WR-WR-RB 1908.8
12 Calvin Johnson Reggie Bush DeMarco Murray Cam Newton Antonio Brown DeAngelo Williams Jermichael Finley Vincent Brown WR-RB-RB-QB-WR-RB-TE-WR 1907.8
13 Arian Foster Reggie Bush Vincent Jackson Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Greg Jennings Jermichael Finley RB-RB-WR-RB-WR-QB-WR-TE 1907.4
14 Calvin Johnson Larry Fitzgerald DeMarco Murray Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick DeAngelo Williams Jermichael Finley WR-WR-RB-RB-WR-QB-RB-TE 1906.3
15 Calvin Johnson Reggie Bush DeMarco Murray Tony Gonzalez Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Greg Jennings DeAngelo Williams WR-RB-RB-TE-WR-QB-WR-RB 1905.4
16 Calvin Johnson Reggie Bush DeMarco Murray Cam Newton Shane Vereen Jermichael Finley Greg Jennings Vincent Brown WR-RB-RB-QB-RB-TE-WR-WR 1904.8
17 Arian Foster Reggie Bush DeMarco Murray Cam Newton Antonio Brown Greg Jennings Jermichael Finley Vincent Brown RB-RB-RB-QB-WR-WR-TE-WR 1904.5
18 Calvin Johnson Rob Gronkowski DeMarco Murray Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Greg Jennings DeAngelo Williams WR-TE-RB-RB-WR-QB-WR-RB 1904.5
19 Calvin Johnson Reggie Bush Rob Gronkowski Cam Newton Shane Vereen Greg Jennings DeAngelo Williams Vincent Brown WR-RB-TE-QB-RB-WR-RB-WR 1904
20 Arian Foster Reggie Bush Rob Gronkowski Cam Newton Antonio Brown Greg Jennings DeAngelo Williams Vincent Brown RB-RB-TE-QB-WR-WR-RB-WR 1903.7

Now we see things begin to shift: we see a 12-point dropoff between Charles (who has an ADP of #3 but is our #2 PPR back) and Arian Foster.  As a result, Calvin Johnson/Reggie Bush begins to become a viable strategy since "Peterson/Charles" followed by "Fitzgerald/White" is off the table. Another reason that the model like Megatron here is that Footballguys likes Reggie Bush a lot, and with an ADP of 21, he isn't an option in the second round for the first three owners. The third-through-eighth round picks remain the same.

Pick #5

Calvin Johnson has an ADP of #5, so not a lot will change between the 4th and the 5th picks other than the fact that Chris Johnson (ADP of 20) is now a better pick than Bush by 0.1 fantasy points:

Rk5202944536877921-2-3-4-5-6-7-8FP
1 Calvin Johnson Chris Johnson DeMarco Murray Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Greg Jennings Jermichael Finley WR-RB-RB-RB-WR-QB-WR-TE 1919.7
2 Calvin Johnson Chris Johnson Rob Gronkowski Antonio Brown Shane Vereen Colin Kaepernick Greg Jennings DeAngelo Williams WR-RB-TE-WR-RB-QB-WR-RB 1918.9
3 Calvin Johnson Chris Johnson DeMarco Murray Cam Newton Antonio Brown Greg Jennings DeAngelo Williams Jermichael Finley WR-RB-RB-QB-WR-WR-RB-TE 1914.1
4 Calvin Johnson Chris Johnson DeMarco Murray Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Jermichael Finley Vincent Brown WR-RB-RB-RB-WR-QB-TE-WR 1913.5
5 Calvin Johnson Chris Johnson Rob Gronkowski Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick DeAngelo Williams Vincent Brown WR-RB-TE-RB-WR-QB-RB-WR 1912.7
6 Calvin Johnson Chris Johnson Vincent Jackson Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick DeAngelo Williams Jermichael Finley WR-RB-WR-RB-WR-QB-RB-TE 1910.8
7 Calvin Johnson Chris Johnson DeMarco Murray Cam Newton Shane Vereen Greg Jennings Mike Williams Jermichael Finley WR-RB-RB-QB-RB-WR-WR-TE 1910
8 Calvin Johnson Chris Johnson Rob Gronkowski Cam Newton Shane Vereen Greg Jennings Mike Williams DeAngelo Williams WR-RB-TE-QB-RB-WR-WR-RB 1909.2
9 Calvin Johnson Chris Johnson DeMarco Murray Cam Newton Antonio Brown DeAngelo Williams Jermichael Finley Vincent Brown WR-RB-RB-QB-WR-RB-TE-WR 1907.9
10 Calvin Johnson Larry Fitzgerald DeMarco Murray Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick DeAngelo Williams Jermichael Finley WR-WR-RB-RB-WR-QB-RB-TE 1906.3
11 Calvin Johnson Chris Johnson DeMarco Murray Tony Gonzalez Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Greg Jennings DeAngelo Williams WR-RB-RB-TE-WR-QB-WR-RB 1905.5
12 Calvin Johnson Chris Johnson DeMarco Murray Cam Newton Shane Vereen Jermichael Finley Greg Jennings Vincent Brown WR-RB-RB-QB-RB-TE-WR-WR 1904.9
13 Calvin Johnson Rob Gronkowski DeMarco Murray Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Greg Jennings DeAngelo Williams WR-TE-RB-RB-WR-QB-WR-RB 1904.5
14 Calvin Johnson Chris Johnson Rob Gronkowski Cam Newton Shane Vereen Greg Jennings DeAngelo Williams Vincent Brown WR-RB-TE-QB-RB-WR-RB-WR 1904.1
15 Calvin Johnson Chris Johnson DeMarco Murray Antonio Brown Torrey Smith Colin Kaepernick DeAngelo Williams Jermichael Finley WR-RB-RB-WR-WR-QB-RB-TE 1903.7
16 Calvin Johnson Chris Johnson DeMarco Murray Antonio Brown Shane Vereen Greg Jennings Russell Wilson Jermichael Finley WR-RB-RB-WR-RB-WR-QB-TE 1903.6
17 Calvin Johnson Chris Johnson Rob Gronkowski Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Greg Jennings Russell Wilson DeAngelo Williams WR-RB-TE-RB-WR-WR-QB-RB 1902.8
18 Calvin Johnson Chris Johnson Vincent Jackson Cam Newton Shane Vereen DeAngelo Williams Greg Jennings Jermichael Finley WR-RB-WR-QB-RB-RB-WR-TE 1902.2
19 Calvin Johnson Chris Johnson DeMarco Murray Antonio Brown Matthew Stafford Greg Jennings Jermichael Finley DeAngelo Williams WR-RB-RB-WR-QB-WR-TE-RB 1901.7
20 Calvin Johnson Chris Johnson DeMarco Murray Antonio Brown Vernon Davis Colin Kaepernick Greg Jennings DeAngelo Williams WR-RB-RB-WR-TE-QB-WR-RB 1901

The other notable difference is that Johnson takes all 20 slots here. Again, this is a model, and all models are imperfect. But I think this shows us how big the dropoff is at running back after the first three or four are gone, and the projected value of Megatron. If you want to take a running back at #5, the optimal strategy is only the 26th best option for the 5th pick (for those curious, the combination is Ray Rice, Chris Johnson, DeMarco Murray, Cam Newton, Antonio Brown, Greg Jennings, Mike Williams, and Jermichael Finley, for a projected value of 1897.1 points). One reason for that is because Chris Johnson is such a good value in round 2 and Vereen such a good value in round 4, that the model thinks it's a waste of resources to go with a running back at the fifth spot. Note that in this system, the 5th pick is even more valuable than the first, because of the ability to get a great running back in the second round. We project Peterson (298.4) and White (259.5) to score fewer points than Calvin Johnson (332.3) and Chris Johnson (232.3).

But what happens when you can't take Megatron?

Pick #6

Rk6193043546778911-2-3-4-5-6-7-8FP
1 Ray Rice Demaryius Thomas DeMarco Murray Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Mike Williams Jermichael Finley RB-WR-RB-RB-WR-QB-WR-TE 1906.1
2 Ray Rice Demaryius Thomas Rob Gronkowski Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Mike Williams DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-TE-RB-WR-QB-WR-RB 1905.3
3 Ray Rice Demaryius Thomas DeMarco Murray Cam Newton Antonio Brown Greg Jennings Jermichael Finley DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-RB-QB-WR-WR-TE-RB 1901.6
4 Ray Rice Demaryius Thomas DeMarco Murray Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Jermichael Finley Vincent Brown RB-WR-RB-RB-WR-QB-TE-WR 1901
5 Ray Rice Demaryius Thomas DeMarco Murray Cam Newton Antonio Brown DeAngelo Williams Mike Williams Jermichael Finley RB-WR-RB-QB-WR-RB-WR-TE 1900.5
6 Ray Rice Demaryius Thomas Rob Gronkowski Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick DeAngelo Williams Vincent Brown RB-WR-TE-RB-WR-QB-RB-WR 1900.2
7 Ray Rice Demaryius Thomas Vincent Jackson Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Jermichael Finley DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-WR-RB-WR-QB-TE-RB 1898.3
8 Ray Rice Demaryius Thomas DeMarco Murray Cam Newton Shane Vereen Greg Jennings Mike Williams Jermichael Finley RB-WR-RB-QB-RB-WR-WR-TE 1897.5
9 Ray Rice Chris Johnson DeMarco Murray Cam Newton Antonio Brown Greg Jennings Mike Williams Jermichael Finley RB-RB-RB-QB-WR-WR-WR-TE 1897.1
10 Ray Rice Demaryius Thomas Rob Gronkowski Cam Newton Shane Vereen Greg Jennings Mike Williams DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-TE-QB-RB-WR-WR-RB 1896.7
11 Ray Rice Chris Johnson Rob Gronkowski Cam Newton Antonio Brown Greg Jennings Mike Williams DeAngelo Williams RB-RB-TE-QB-WR-WR-WR-RB 1896.3
12 Ray Rice Chris Johnson Rob Gronkowski Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Mike Williams Vincent Brown RB-RB-TE-RB-WR-QB-WR-WR 1895.7
13 Ray Rice Demaryius Thomas DeMarco Murray Cam Newton Antonio Brown DeAngelo Williams Jermichael Finley Vincent Brown RB-WR-RB-QB-WR-RB-TE-WR 1895.4
14 Ray Rice Chris Johnson Vincent Jackson Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Mike Williams Jermichael Finley RB-RB-WR-RB-WR-QB-WR-TE 1893.8
15 Ray Rice Demaryius Thomas DeMarco Murray Cam Newton Shane Vereen Greg Jennings Jermichael Finley Vincent Brown RB-WR-RB-QB-RB-WR-TE-WR 1892.4
16 Ray Rice Chris Johnson DeMarco Murray Cam Newton Antonio Brown Greg Jennings Jermichael Finley Vincent Brown RB-RB-RB-QB-WR-WR-TE-WR 1892
17 Ray Rice Demaryius Thomas DeMarco Murray Tony Gonzalez Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Mike Williams DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-RB-TE-WR-QB-WR-RB 1891.9
18 Ray Rice Demaryius Thomas Rob Gronkowski Cam Newton Shane Vereen Greg Jennings DeAngelo Williams Vincent Brown RB-WR-TE-QB-RB-WR-RB-WR 1891.6
19 Ray Rice Demaryius Thomas DeMarco Murray Cam Newton Shane Vereen Jermichael Finley Mike Williams Vincent Brown RB-WR-RB-QB-RB-TE-WR-WR 1891.3
20 Ray Rice Chris Johnson Rob Gronkowski Cam Newton Antonio Brown Greg Jennings DeAngelo Williams Vincent Brown RB-RB-TE-QB-WR-WR-RB-WR 1891.2

This starts to look like the combos for the first three picks: best available RB, best available WR, Murray, Vereen, Brown, Kaepernick, WR, and then Finley.  The only difference here is that Greg Jennings is projected off the board at 77, so you need to have an earlier first round pick to get him in the 7th (but the dropoff to Williams is just one point). Going RB-WR is the clear strategy at six: the top strategy when you go RB-RB with this slot is actually going RB-RB-RB.

Pick #7

Ray Rice has an ADP of 7 (C.J. Spiller has an ADP of 6, but we have Rice projected a half-point higher), so you would think many of these combos will be identical. And, of course, the strategy doesn't really change if you choose Spiller over Rice at six, or if you're left having to take Spiller at seven. But the point of running simulations is because some results aren't intuitive. As it turns out, there is a big difference here between 6 and 7: by picking late in the third round, Murray is now off the board.

Rk7183142556679901-2-3-4-5-6-7-8FP
1 Ray Rice Demaryius Thomas Rob Gronkowski Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Mike Williams DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-TE-RB-WR-QB-WR-RB 1905.3
2 Ray Rice Demaryius Thomas Rob Gronkowski Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick DeAngelo Williams Vincent Brown RB-WR-TE-RB-WR-QB-RB-WR 1900.2
3 Ray Rice Demaryius Thomas Darren McFadden Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Mike Williams Jermichael Finley RB-WR-RB-RB-WR-QB-WR-TE 1899
4 Ray Rice Demaryius Thomas Vincent Jackson Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Jermichael Finley DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-WR-RB-WR-QB-TE-RB 1898.3
5 Ray Rice Demaryius Thomas Rob Gronkowski Cam Newton Shane Vereen Greg Jennings Mike Williams DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-TE-QB-RB-WR-WR-RB 1896.7
6 Ray Rice Chris Johnson Rob Gronkowski Cam Newton Antonio Brown Greg Jennings Mike Williams DeAngelo Williams RB-RB-TE-QB-WR-WR-WR-RB 1896.3
7 Ray Rice Chris Johnson Rob Gronkowski Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Mike Williams Vincent Brown RB-RB-TE-RB-WR-QB-WR-WR 1895.7
8 Ray Rice Demaryius Thomas Darren McFadden Cam Newton Antonio Brown Greg Jennings Jermichael Finley DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-RB-QB-WR-WR-TE-RB 1894.5
9 Ray Rice Demaryius Thomas Darren McFadden Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Jermichael Finley Vincent Brown RB-WR-RB-RB-WR-QB-TE-WR 1893.9
10 Ray Rice Chris Johnson Vincent Jackson Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Mike Williams Jermichael Finley RB-RB-WR-RB-WR-QB-WR-TE 1893.8
11 Ray Rice Demaryius Thomas Darren McFadden Cam Newton Antonio Brown DeAngelo Williams Mike Williams Jermichael Finley RB-WR-RB-QB-WR-RB-WR-TE 1893.4
12 Ray Rice Demaryius Thomas Rob Gronkowski Cam Newton Shane Vereen Greg Jennings DeAngelo Williams Vincent Brown RB-WR-TE-QB-RB-WR-RB-WR 1891.6
13 Ray Rice Chris Johnson Rob Gronkowski Cam Newton Antonio Brown Greg Jennings DeAngelo Williams Vincent Brown RB-RB-TE-QB-WR-WR-RB-WR 1891.2
14 Ray Rice Demaryius Thomas Rob Gronkowski Cam Newton Shane Vereen DeAngelo Williams Mike Williams Vincent Brown RB-WR-TE-QB-RB-RB-WR-WR 1890.5
15 Ray Rice Demaryius Thomas Darren McFadden Cam Newton Shane Vereen Greg Jennings Mike Williams Jermichael Finley RB-WR-RB-QB-RB-WR-WR-TE 1890.4
16 Ray Rice Demaryius Thomas Rob Gronkowski Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Greg Jennings Russell Wilson DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-TE-RB-WR-WR-QB-RB 1890.3
17 Ray Rice Chris Johnson Rob Gronkowski Cam Newton Antonio Brown DeAngelo Williams Mike Williams Vincent Brown RB-RB-TE-QB-WR-RB-WR-WR 1890.1
18 Ray Rice Chris Johnson Darren McFadden Cam Newton Antonio Brown Greg Jennings Mike Williams Jermichael Finley RB-RB-RB-QB-WR-WR-WR-TE 1890
19 Ray Rice Demaryius Thomas Vincent Jackson Cam Newton Shane Vereen Greg Jennings DeAngelo Williams Jermichael Finley RB-WR-WR-QB-RB-WR-RB-TE 1889.7
20 Ray Rice Chris Johnson Vincent Jackson Cam Newton Antonio Brown Greg Jennings DeAngelo Williams Jermichael Finley RB-RB-WR-QB-WR-WR-RB-TE 1889.3

Murray is our 15h-rated back, and there's a 7-point drop from him to McFadden. That's why we recommend (in this type of league) grabbing Gronkowski in the third. That might sound like a risky pick to you, but he's still extremely valuable even if he misses three games (obviously if he starts the season on the PUP list -- and therefore misses the first six games -- that changes the math). What do you do if Murray is gone, you don't like the idea of taking the Patriots tight end, and you've been burned by McFadden too many times? Vincent Jackson began to show up in the third round for the 5th owner, but he becomes a real option for the risk-averse fantasy players here. Since we like Vereen and Williams (and you already have an RB1), and are high on Kaepernick and Finley, going wide receiver-wide receiver in the second and third rounds is a sound strategy if you can't stomach drafting a severe injury risk in the third round.

Pick #8

We see some of the same issues here -- Gronkowski vs. McFadden vs. Jackson in the third round -- but RB-RB is now a vaiable strategy since Alfred Morris (ADP of 17) is still available. The top four combinations all feature Dwayne Bowe (ADP of 41) in the fourth, making the first time the Chiefs wide receiver has appeared on any of these lists.

Rk8173241566580891-2-3-4-5-6-7-8FP
1 LeSean McCoy Demaryius Thomas Rob Gronkowski Dwayne Bowe Shane Vereen Colin Kaepernick Mike Williams DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-TE-WR-RB-QB-WR-RB 1906.8
2 LeSean McCoy Alfred Morris Rob Gronkowski Dwayne Bowe Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Mike Williams DeAngelo Williams RB-RB-TE-WR-WR-QB-WR-RB 1906.4
3 LeSean McCoy Demaryius Thomas Darren McFadden Dwayne Bowe Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick DeAngelo Williams Jermichael Finley RB-WR-RB-WR-WR-QB-RB-TE 1904.6
4 LeSean McCoy Demaryius Thomas Rob Gronkowski Dwayne Bowe Shane Vereen Colin Kaepernick DeAngelo Williams Vincent Brown RB-WR-TE-WR-RB-QB-RB-WR 1901.7
5 LeSean McCoy Demaryius Thomas Rob Gronkowski Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Mike Williams DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-TE-RB-WR-QB-WR-RB 1901.3
6 LeSean McCoy Demaryius Thomas Darren McFadden Dwayne Bowe Shane Vereen Colin Kaepernick Mike Williams Jermichael Finley RB-WR-RB-WR-RB-QB-WR-TE 1900.5
7 LeSean McCoy Alfred Morris Darren McFadden Dwayne Bowe Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Mike Williams Jermichael Finley RB-RB-RB-WR-WR-QB-WR-TE 1900.1
8 LeSean McCoy Demaryius Thomas Vincent Jackson Dwayne Bowe Shane Vereen Colin Kaepernick DeAngelo Williams Jermichael Finley RB-WR-WR-WR-RB-QB-RB-TE 1899.8
9 LeSean McCoy Alfred Morris Vincent Jackson Dwayne Bowe Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Jermichael Finley DeAngelo Williams RB-RB-WR-WR-WR-QB-TE-RB 1899.4
10 LeSean McCoy Alfred Morris Rob Gronkowski Dwayne Bowe Shane Vereen Colin Kaepernick Mike Williams Vincent Brown RB-RB-TE-WR-RB-QB-WR-WR 1897.2
11 LeSean McCoy Demaryius Thomas Rob Gronkowski Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick DeAngelo Williams Vincent Brown RB-WR-TE-RB-WR-QB-RB-WR 1896.2
12 LeSean McCoy Demaryius Thomas Darren McFadden Dwayne Bowe Shane Vereen Colin Kaepernick Jermichael Finley Vincent Brown RB-WR-RB-WR-RB-QB-TE-WR 1895.4
13 LeSean McCoy Alfred Morris Vincent Jackson Dwayne Bowe Shane Vereen Colin Kaepernick Mike Williams Jermichael Finley RB-RB-WR-WR-RB-QB-WR-TE 1895.3
14 LeSean McCoy Demaryius Thomas Darren McFadden Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Mike Williams Jermichael Finley RB-WR-RB-RB-WR-QB-WR-TE 1895
15 LeSean McCoy Demaryius Thomas Vincent Jackson Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Jermichael Finley DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-WR-RB-WR-QB-TE-RB 1894.3
16 LeSean McCoy Demaryius Thomas Rob Gronkowski Cam Newton Shane Vereen Greg Jennings Mike Williams DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-TE-QB-RB-WR-WR-RB 1892.7
17 LeSean McCoy Alfred Morris Rob Gronkowski Cam Newton Antonio Brown Greg Jennings Mike Williams DeAngelo Williams RB-RB-TE-QB-WR-WR-WR-RB 1892.3
18 LeSean McCoy Demaryius Thomas Rob Gronkowski Dwayne Bowe Shane Vereen Greg Jennings Russell Wilson DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-TE-WR-RB-WR-QB-RB 1891.8
19 LeSean McCoy Alfred Morris Rob Gronkowski Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Mike Williams Vincent Brown RB-RB-TE-RB-WR-QB-WR-WR 1891.7
20 LeSean McCoy Alfred Morris Rob Gronkowski Dwayne Bowe Antonio Brown Greg Jennings Russell Wilson DeAngelo Williams RB-RB-TE-WR-WR-WR-QB-RB 1891.4

McCoy is the clear pick at #8, and I think many view him as a tier one running back. We also see Kaepernick in the 6th as a clearer strategy here for an interesting reason. One pick ago, the 7th owner had Newton in the 4th as a viable option; but here, the owner of the 8th pick can draft Dwayne Bowe, and he is a preferable pick to Newton. That forces this model's hand at quarterback, so we see Kaepernick re-emerge.

Pick #9

Rk9163340576481881-2-3-4-5-6-7-8FP
1 Trent Richardson Demaryius Thomas Rob Gronkowski Dwayne Bowe Shane Vereen Colin Kaepernick Mike Williams DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-TE-WR-RB-QB-WR-RB 1902.3
2 Trent Richardson Alfred Morris Rob Gronkowski Dwayne Bowe Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Mike Williams DeAngelo Williams RB-RB-TE-WR-WR-QB-WR-RB 1901.9
3 Trent Richardson Demaryius Thomas Darren McFadden Jason Witten Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Mike Williams DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-RB-TE-WR-QB-WR-RB 1900.5
4 Trent Richardson Demaryius Thomas Darren McFadden Dwayne Bowe Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick DeAngelo Williams Jermichael Finley RB-WR-RB-WR-WR-QB-RB-TE 1900.1
5 Trent Richardson Demaryius Thomas Rob Gronkowski Dwayne Bowe Shane Vereen Colin Kaepernick DeAngelo Williams Vincent Brown RB-WR-TE-WR-RB-QB-RB-WR 1897.2
6 Trent Richardson Demaryius Thomas Rob Gronkowski Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Mike Williams DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-TE-RB-WR-QB-WR-RB 1896.8
7 Trent Richardson Demaryius Thomas Darren McFadden Dwayne Bowe Shane Vereen Colin Kaepernick Mike Williams Jermichael Finley RB-WR-RB-WR-RB-QB-WR-TE 1896
8 Trent Richardson Demaryius Thomas Vincent Jackson Jason Witten Shane Vereen Colin Kaepernick Mike Williams DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-WR-TE-RB-QB-WR-RB 1895.7
9 Trent Richardson Alfred Morris Darren McFadden Dwayne Bowe Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Mike Williams Jermichael Finley RB-RB-RB-WR-WR-QB-WR-TE 1895.6
10 Trent Richardson Demaryius Thomas Darren McFadden Jason Witten Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick DeAngelo Williams Vincent Brown RB-WR-RB-TE-WR-QB-RB-WR 1895.4
11 Trent Richardson Demaryius Thomas Vincent Jackson Dwayne Bowe Shane Vereen Colin Kaepernick DeAngelo Williams Jermichael Finley RB-WR-WR-WR-RB-QB-RB-TE 1895.3
12 Trent Richardson Demaryius Thomas Rob Gronkowski Cam Newton Shane Vereen Steve Smith Mike Williams DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-TE-QB-RB-WR-WR-RB 1894.9
13 Trent Richardson Alfred Morris Vincent Jackson Dwayne Bowe Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Jermichael Finley DeAngelo Williams RB-RB-WR-WR-WR-QB-TE-RB 1894.9
14 Trent Richardson Alfred Morris Rob Gronkowski Cam Newton Antonio Brown Steve Smith Mike Williams DeAngelo Williams RB-RB-TE-QB-WR-WR-WR-RB 1894.5
15 Trent Richardson Demaryius Thomas Rob Gronkowski Dwayne Bowe Shane Vereen Steve Smith Russell Wilson DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-TE-WR-RB-WR-QB-RB 1894
16 Trent Richardson Alfred Morris Rob Gronkowski Dwayne Bowe Antonio Brown Steve Smith Russell Wilson DeAngelo Williams RB-RB-TE-WR-WR-WR-QB-RB 1893.6
17 Trent Richardson Demaryius Thomas Darren McFadden Cam Newton Antonio Brown Steve Smith Jermichael Finley DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-RB-QB-WR-WR-TE-RB 1892.7
18 Trent Richardson Alfred Morris Rob Gronkowski Dwayne Bowe Shane Vereen Colin Kaepernick Mike Williams Vincent Brown RB-RB-TE-WR-RB-QB-WR-WR 1892.7
19 Trent Richardson Demaryius Thomas Darren McFadden Jason Witten Antonio Brown Steve Smith Russell Wilson DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-RB-TE-WR-WR-QB-RB 1892.2
20 Trent Richardson Demaryius Thomas Rob Gronkowski Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick DeAngelo Williams Vincent Brown RB-WR-TE-RB-WR-QB-RB-WR 1891.7

Not much changes: we have Richardson as the last Tier 1 running back (there's a 24-point drop from him to Forte), and we project Richardson as 3.5 points behind McCoy. Jason Witten wasn't an option before, but he's on the table now. The decision the 8th pick owner has to make is Witten or Bowe in the fourth versus Mike Williams or Jermichael Finley later on (or Witten/Jackson compared to Gronkowski/Bowe).

But with the top 8 running backs and Megatron gone, what do you do if you've drafting ninth?

Pick #10

Surprise, surprise:

Rk10153439586382871-2-3-4-5-6-7-8FP
1 Jimmy Graham Brandon Marshall Darren McFadden Dwayne Bowe Shane Vereen Colin Kaepernick Mike Williams DeAngelo Williams TE-WR-RB-WR-RB-QB-WR-RB 1897
2 A.J. Green Brandon Marshall Darren McFadden Jason Witten Shane Vereen Colin Kaepernick Mike Williams DeAngelo Williams WR-WR-RB-TE-RB-QB-WR-RB 1894
3 A.J. Green Brandon Marshall Darren McFadden Dwayne Bowe Shane Vereen Colin Kaepernick DeAngelo Williams Jermichael Finley WR-WR-RB-WR-RB-QB-RB-TE 1893.6
4 Jimmy Graham Brandon Marshall Darren McFadden Dwayne Bowe Shane Vereen Colin Kaepernick DeAngelo Williams Vincent Brown TE-WR-RB-WR-RB-QB-RB-WR 1891.9
5 Jimmy Graham Brandon Marshall Darren McFadden Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Mike Williams DeAngelo Williams TE-WR-RB-RB-WR-QB-WR-RB 1891.5
6 Jimmy Graham Brandon Marshall Darren McFadden Cam Newton Shane Vereen Steve Smith Mike Williams DeAngelo Williams TE-WR-RB-QB-RB-WR-WR-RB 1889.6
7 A.J. Green Brandon Marshall Darren McFadden Jason Witten Shane Vereen Colin Kaepernick DeAngelo Williams Vincent Brown WR-WR-RB-TE-RB-QB-RB-WR 1888.9
8 Jimmy Graham Brandon Marshall Darren McFadden Dwayne Bowe Shane Vereen Steve Smith Russell Wilson DeAngelo Williams TE-WR-RB-WR-RB-WR-QB-RB 1888.7
9 Jimmy Graham Alfred Morris Darren McFadden Dwayne Bowe Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Mike Williams DeAngelo Williams TE-RB-RB-WR-WR-QB-WR-RB 1888.3
10 A.J. Green Brandon Marshall Darren McFadden Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick DeAngelo Williams Jermichael Finley WR-WR-RB-RB-WR-QB-RB-TE 1888.1
11 A.J. Green Alfred Morris Rob Gronkowski Dwayne Bowe Shane Vereen Colin Kaepernick Mike Williams DeAngelo Williams WR-RB-TE-WR-RB-QB-WR-RB 1887.1
12 Matt Forte Brandon Marshall Rob Gronkowski Dwayne Bowe Shane Vereen Colin Kaepernick Mike Williams DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-TE-WR-RB-QB-WR-RB 1887
13 Jimmy Graham Brandon Marshall Darren McFadden Shane Vereen Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick DeAngelo Williams Vincent Brown TE-WR-RB-RB-WR-QB-RB-WR 1886.4
14 A.J. Green Brandon Marshall Darren McFadden Cam Newton Shane Vereen Steve Smith DeAngelo Williams Jermichael Finley WR-WR-RB-QB-RB-WR-RB-TE 1886.2
15 A.J. Green Brandon Marshall Darren McFadden Jason Witten Shane Vereen Steve Smith Russell Wilson DeAngelo Williams WR-WR-RB-TE-RB-WR-QB-RB 1885.7
16 A.J. Green Alfred Morris Darren McFadden Jason Witten Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Mike Williams DeAngelo Williams WR-RB-RB-TE-WR-QB-WR-RB 1885.3
17 Matt Forte Brandon Marshall Darren McFadden Jason Witten Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick Mike Williams DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-RB-TE-WR-QB-WR-RB 1885.2
18 A.J. Green Alfred Morris Darren McFadden Dwayne Bowe Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick DeAngelo Williams Jermichael Finley WR-RB-RB-WR-WR-QB-RB-TE 1884.9
19 Matt Forte Brandon Marshall Darren McFadden Dwayne Bowe Antonio Brown Colin Kaepernick DeAngelo Williams Jermichael Finley RB-WR-RB-WR-WR-QB-RB-TE 1884.8
20 Jimmy Graham Brandon Marshall Darren McFadden Cam Newton Shane Vereen Steve Smith DeAngelo Williams Vincent Brown TE-WR-RB-QB-RB-WR-RB-WR 1884.5

Optimal Draft says take Jimmy Graham. The Saints tight end is the clear best player at his position, and he shows up in six of the top nine slots. Brandon Marshall is finally available in the second round, one benefit to picking this late in the first round. Make no mistake, this model says the #10 pick is at a disadvantage -- the top projection is still 5.3 points behind the top option for the #9 pick. But once the top running backs are gone, Graham seems like a solid option, especially since we're high on McFadden, Vereen, and Williams. Taking Forte is a reach -- he only shows up in three of the top twenty options, and none of the top ten --so the real debate is Graham vs. A.J. Green.

Part of that debate is Graham/Bowe at 10/39 vs. Green/Witten at those same slots. That will come down to personal preference. Alternatively, if you still want to draft Bowe in the fourth and love Green, the other option is to draft Finley at tight end instead of using that late round pick on Mike Williams. One thing that's not up for debate: McFadden is the obvious pick in round three, with Gronkowski the only other option.

Pick #11

Since both Graham and Green are available at #11, you would think the strategy issues here would be identical. As it turns out, the model presents an interesting question.

Rk11143538596283861-2-3-4-5-6-7-8FP
1 A.J. Green Alfred Morris Rob Gronkowski Dwayne Bowe Shane Vereen Matthew Stafford Miles Austin DeAngelo Williams WR-RB-TE-WR-RB-QB-WR-RB 1889.9
2 Matt Forte Brandon Marshall Rob Gronkowski Dwayne Bowe Shane Vereen Matthew Stafford Miles Austin DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-TE-WR-RB-QB-WR-RB 1889.8
3 A.J. Green Alfred Morris Rob Gronkowski Dwayne Bowe Shane Vereen Matthew Stafford DeAngelo Williams Vincent Brown WR-RB-TE-WR-RB-QB-RB-WR 1888.5
4 Matt Forte Brandon Marshall Rob Gronkowski Dwayne Bowe Shane Vereen Matthew Stafford DeAngelo Williams Vincent Brown RB-WR-TE-WR-RB-QB-RB-WR 1888.4
5 A.J. Green Alfred Morris Vincent Jackson Dwayne Bowe Shane Vereen Matthew Stafford DeAngelo Williams Jermichael Finley WR-RB-WR-WR-RB-QB-RB-TE 1886.6
6 Matt Forte Brandon Marshall Vincent Jackson Dwayne Bowe Shane Vereen Matthew Stafford DeAngelo Williams Jermichael Finley RB-WR-WR-WR-RB-QB-RB-TE 1886.5
7 Jimmy Graham Alfred Morris Vincent Jackson Dwayne Bowe Shane Vereen Matthew Stafford Miles Austin DeAngelo Williams TE-RB-WR-WR-RB-QB-WR-RB 1886.3
8 Jimmy Graham Alfred Morris Vincent Jackson Dwayne Bowe Shane Vereen Matthew Stafford DeAngelo Williams Vincent Brown TE-RB-WR-WR-RB-QB-RB-WR 1884.9
9 A.J. Green Alfred Morris Vincent Jackson Jason Witten Shane Vereen Matthew Stafford Miles Austin DeAngelo Williams WR-RB-WR-TE-RB-QB-WR-RB 1883.3
10 Matt Forte Brandon Marshall Vincent Jackson Jason Witten Shane Vereen Matthew Stafford Miles Austin DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-WR-TE-RB-QB-WR-RB 1883.2
11 A.J. Green Alfred Morris Vincent Jackson Jason Witten Shane Vereen Matthew Stafford DeAngelo Williams Vincent Brown WR-RB-WR-TE-RB-QB-RB-WR 1881.9
12 Matt Forte Brandon Marshall Vincent Jackson Jason Witten Shane Vereen Matthew Stafford DeAngelo Williams Vincent Brown RB-WR-WR-TE-RB-QB-RB-WR 1881.8
13 A.J. Green Alfred Morris Rob Gronkowski Dwayne Bowe Shane Vereen Steve Smith Russell Wilson DeAngelo Williams WR-RB-TE-WR-RB-WR-QB-RB 1878.8
14 Matt Forte Brandon Marshall Rob Gronkowski Dwayne Bowe Shane Vereen Steve Smith Russell Wilson DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-TE-WR-RB-WR-QB-RB 1878.7
15 A.J. Green Brandon Marshall Rob Gronkowski Dwayne Bowe Shane Vereen Matthew Stafford DeAngelo Williams Ben Tate WR-WR-TE-WR-RB-QB-RB-RB 1876.4
16 A.J. Green Alfred Morris Rob Gronkowski Cam Newton Shane Vereen Steve Smith Miles Austin DeAngelo Williams WR-RB-TE-QB-RB-WR-WR-RB 1876
17 Matt Forte Brandon Marshall Rob Gronkowski Cam Newton Shane Vereen Steve Smith Miles Austin DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-TE-QB-RB-WR-WR-RB 1875.9
18 Jimmy Graham Alfred Morris Vincent Jackson Dwayne Bowe Shane Vereen Steve Smith Russell Wilson DeAngelo Williams TE-RB-WR-WR-RB-WR-QB-RB 1875.2
19 A.J. Green Alfred Morris Rob Gronkowski Cam Newton Shane Vereen Steve Smith DeAngelo Williams Vincent Brown WR-RB-TE-QB-RB-WR-RB-WR 1874.6
20 Matt Forte Brandon Marshall Rob Gronkowski Cam Newton Shane Vereen Steve Smith DeAngelo Williams Vincent Brown RB-WR-TE-QB-RB-WR-RB-WR 1874.5

McFadden has an ADP of 34, so this model assumes we can't take him. That drastically lowers the projections, as he was a slam dunk pick, and now we're forced to choose between Gronkowski and Jackson. And if we take Graham, Gronkowski is off the board -- that's the reason Graham no longer becomes the top pick. Without the ability to take McFadden (because of ADP) or Gronkowski (because the TE slot is filled), your hand is forced into Vincent Jackson in the third round if you take Graham.  And here's another pinball effect: Mike Williams has an ADP of 82, and we've drafted him frequently in the 7th round. But we can't do that here (the 7th round pick is number 83). That means if you don't take A.J. Green in the first round (i.e., if you pick Graham), your options become even more limited at wide receiver.

In other words, Graham may be a great pick, but taking him in the first eliminates a lot of flexibility in a league that starts only one tight end and has no flex. As a result, we see Green and Forte as the top pick in our six best strategies. There is one benefit you get to picking 11th in this model: Matthew Stafford is finally available as a 6th round pick, and he's an oustanding value there (we have him as 6.5 points ahead of Kaepernick). Since his ADP is 62, you couldn't get him this late with the 10th slot.

Alfred Morris begins to re-emerge, too. That's because without McFadden available as a safety net (clearly our model has a sense of humor) in the third round, you have to take a running back in the first two rounds. So it's either Green/Morris or Forte/Marshall or Graham/Morris. I already discussed the problems with taking Graham at this slot: either of the first two options are optimal, but there's a 7.1-point dropoff from the 10th slot to the 11th. But don't think you've solved this model yet: the 12th pick has a surprise in store for you.

Pick #12

Rk12133637606184851-2-3-4-5-6-7-8FP
1 Jimmy Graham Matt Forte Vincent Jackson Dwayne Bowe Shane Vereen Matthew Stafford Miles Austin DeAngelo Williams TE-RB-WR-WR-RB-QB-WR-RB 1893.9
2 Jimmy Graham Matt Forte Vincent Jackson Dwayne Bowe Shane Vereen Matthew Stafford DeAngelo Williams Vincent Brown TE-RB-WR-WR-RB-QB-RB-WR 1892.5
3 Matt Forte Brandon Marshall Vincent Jackson Dwayne Bowe Shane Vereen Matthew Stafford DeAngelo Williams Jermichael Finley RB-WR-WR-WR-RB-QB-RB-TE 1886.5
4 Jimmy Graham Matt Forte Vincent Jackson Dwayne Bowe Torrey Smith Shane Vereen Russell Wilson DeAngelo Williams TE-RB-WR-WR-WR-RB-QB-RB 1884.6
5 Matt Forte Brandon Marshall Vincent Jackson Jason Witten Shane Vereen Matthew Stafford Miles Austin DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-WR-TE-RB-QB-WR-RB 1883.2
6 Jimmy Graham Matt Forte Vincent Jackson Dwayne Bowe Shane Vereen Steve Smith Russell Wilson DeAngelo Williams TE-RB-WR-WR-RB-WR-QB-RB 1882.8
7 Jimmy Graham Matt Forte Vincent Jackson Cam Newton Torrey Smith Shane Vereen Miles Austin DeAngelo Williams TE-RB-WR-QB-WR-RB-WR-RB 1881.8
8 Matt Forte Brandon Marshall Vincent Jackson Jason Witten Shane Vereen Matthew Stafford DeAngelo Williams Vincent Brown RB-WR-WR-TE-RB-QB-RB-WR 1881.8
9 Jimmy Graham Matt Forte Vincent Jackson Cam Newton Torrey Smith Shane Vereen DeAngelo Williams Vincent Brown TE-RB-WR-QB-WR-RB-RB-WR 1880.4
10 Jimmy Graham Matt Forte Vincent Jackson Cam Newton Shane Vereen Steve Smith Miles Austin DeAngelo Williams TE-RB-WR-QB-RB-WR-WR-RB 1880
11 Jimmy Graham Matt Forte Vincent Jackson Cam Newton Shane Vereen Steve Smith DeAngelo Williams Vincent Brown TE-RB-WR-QB-RB-WR-RB-WR 1878.6
12 Matt Forte Brandon Marshall Vincent Jackson Cam Newton Torrey Smith Shane Vereen Jermichael Finley DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-WR-QB-WR-RB-TE-RB 1874.4
13 Matt Forte Brandon Marshall Vincent Jackson Jason Witten Torrey Smith Shane Vereen Russell Wilson DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-WR-TE-WR-RB-QB-RB 1873.9
14 Jimmy Graham Brandon Marshall Vincent Jackson Dwayne Bowe Shane Vereen Matthew Stafford DeAngelo Williams Ben Tate TE-WR-WR-WR-RB-QB-RB-RB 1872.8
15 Matt Forte Brandon Marshall Vincent Jackson Cam Newton Shane Vereen Steve Smith DeAngelo Williams Jermichael Finley RB-WR-WR-QB-RB-WR-RB-TE 1872.6
16 Matt Forte Brandon Marshall Vincent Jackson Jason Witten Shane Vereen Steve Smith Russell Wilson DeAngelo Williams RB-WR-WR-TE-RB-WR-QB-RB 1872.1
17 Jimmy Graham Matt Forte Vincent Jackson Dwayne Bowe Shane Vereen DeAngelo Williams Miles Austin Russell Wilson TE-RB-WR-WR-RB-RB-WR-QB 1871.3
18 Matt Forte Alfred Morris Vincent Jackson Dwayne Bowe Shane Vereen Matthew Stafford Miles Austin Jermichael Finley RB-RB-WR-WR-RB-QB-WR-TE 1870
19 Jimmy Graham Matt Forte Vincent Jackson Dwayne Bowe Shane Vereen DeAngelo Williams Russell Wilson Vincent Brown TE-RB-WR-WR-RB-RB-QB-WR 1869.9
20 Jimmy Graham Matt Forte Vincent Jackson Shane Vereen Torrey Smith Matthew Stafford Miles Austin DeAngelo Williams TE-RB-WR-RB-WR-QB-WR-RB 1869.4

Because Forte is still going to be available at 13, Graham now becomes the pick. If you've got the 10th pick or the 12th pick, taking Graham first makes sense. But if you've got the 11th pick, you can't get McFadden in the third round and you can't get Forte in the second round: as a result, Graham is a luxury you can't afford in the first round.

Taking a step back, we see that the top nine picks should be Megatron and the Tier 1 running backs. Our next three players are Graham, Green, and Forte, but Marshawn Lynch sneaks into the top twelve in ADP, which allows Forte (whom we like more in PPR leagues than Lynch) to be available at 2.01. What do you do if you pick 12th, the top nine players are off the board, and then Graham and Green are drafted? That's the worst case scenario, but you can build your team around a couple of Bears, Forte and Marshall.


More from Chase Stuart:

Defensive Team by Committee - August 8
Running Back Production by Quarter (2014) - July 29
Running Back Workload Part II - July 18
Running Back Workload - July 11
Running Back Fantasy Production in Wins and Losses - July 7
Quarterback By Committee 2014 - June 19
Rearview QB - June 5
A Starting Point for 2014 Running Back Projections - May 27
How to Project Receiving Yards In 2014 - May 14
Cross-Team Running Back Handcuffs - August 28